The penultimate report from the Hampton-Alexander Review seemed to paint a positive picture of gender diversity within business. According to the latest figures, most organisations within the FTSE 350 are on track to meet the target of women occupying a third of board seats before 2021, which on the surface paints a very positive picture. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that this step forward is not replicated at more junior levels, or even in senior leadership roles below board level.
And the property industry is even further behind. In fact, it holds the dubious accolade of being one of only two sectors to still have a company without any female representation on its board. Women account for just 15 per cent of the property and construction workforce, while the real estate gender pay gap is over 30 per cent – more than double the average for all UK industries.
We’re all familiar with the stats and good work is now being done in certain quarters of our industry to address its gender and also its BAME imbalance. But we need to go much further and consider diversity in its broadest sense.
There’s growing recognition that identity is complex and we can’t put people into the traditionally defined boxes based on gender, age, race, background, or education. We now have greater fluidity in all aspects of identity matters, coupled with broader structural shifts in our society and it is changing what people want and need from the places where they live and work. Our family dynamics have evolved, people are working more flexibly than ever before and technology has altered just about everything we do. The world is changing, and property isn’t keeping up.
How well do we know the people who are going to be living and working in the places we are building and managing? How can we create mixed-use developments that serve these modern communities when we reflect and understand so few of them?
At Navana these questions have been front of mind when shaping our recruitment process, driving our decision, for example, to use blind CVs. We are widening entry routes into property by hiring from a diverse range of backgrounds but also by looking to other sectors. Women are traditionally well represented in industries like hospitality, retail and marketing where they utilise different skill sets – for example, excellent customer service, creative thinking and innovative technologies. Our sector would benefit from all of these.
Building diverse workplaces isn’t just about doing the right thing. Studies show that getting the right balance of people, with different skills, personality types, perspectives and ways of thinking can deliver a competitive advantage by improving business performance.
While much discussion centres around gender, ethnicity and sexuality, neurodiversity is an area which is often overlooked. More than 15 per cent of people in the UK are neurodivergent, meaning their brains function, learn and process information differently – including those with dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and ADHD. Corporate understanding of these conditions and workplace initiatives to support them are patchy at best. Landmark research by the KPMG Foundation in 2016 estimated that the social cost of ignoring illiteracy linked to dyslexia alone could be costing the economy as much as £2.5 billion annually, let alone the price that individual companies are paying by closing themselves off to this untapped talent pool.
Other sectors are already leading the way and taking a proactive approach. For example, our British intelligence service, GCHQ, has acknowledged the superior problem-solving skills of dyslexic people and is now actively recruiting them into apprenticeships. Global tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and SAP have all reported productivity and employee engagement improvements since implementing HR policies to encourage neurodiversity.
Improving the gender balance in property should remain a priority for all of us, but taking a one-dimensional approach to diversity, and failing to act on the less obvious indicators now, will mean we fall even further behind. As we begin this new decade, we must start looking and thinking like the society we’re building for if we want to develop long-lasting, vibrant places.
Kelly Bream, Chief Operating Officer
Featured in CoStar News, November 11th 2019